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Israel sends troops to Jerusalem holy site, ahead of Palestinian protest

Israeli security forces stand guard in front of the Golden Gate [AFP/Getty Images]

Date of publication: 8 March, 2019

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Tensions remain high in Jerusalem after scuffles between Palestinians and Israeli forces at the Golden Gate last month.

Large numbers of Israeli police have been stationed in the old city of Jerusalem on Friday amid expected protests around the sealed-off Golden Gate in the Haram al-Sharif compound.

Police have erected various checkpoints throughout the city and stationed troops, sources inside Jerusalem said. Thousands of Muslims are expected in the city today for the weekly Friday prayer and events of the last month have increased tensions.

Hamas, who govern the Gaza strip, called on Thursday for Palestinians to gather at al-Aqsa compound for a "day of rage" against the continued closure of the Golden Gate, also known as Bab al-Rahma.

The Waqf religious trust that runs the al-Aqsa mosque compound called for protest prayers but does not want renewed clashes. It also said Tuesday it will defy an Israeli court order barring access to part of the flashpoint holy site.

Scuffles between worshippers and police took place last month over access to Bab al-Rahma (Gate of Mercy), which has been closed by Israel for fifteen years. Palestinians celebrated as they managed to reenter the building and crowds of worshippers prayed inside despite an Israeli order barring access.

"It is our right, religious and contractual, to access the Golden Gate and keep this door open for Muslims to pray," said Shaykh Abdel Azim Salhab, the leader of the Waqf council.

Salhab and his assistant were briefly detained last week for what police said was violation of an order preventing entry into a prohibited area of the holy site.

They were released later the same day but the arrest drew condemnation from Jordan, the custodian of the al-Aqsa compound. Israel and Jordan have been holding talks to find a solution to the situation.

Scores of Palestinian have been arrested, including Jerusalem governor, Adnan Ghaith, who has now been released.

Police told the Haaretz daily that they were not increasing forces in the area above standard levels.

Masjid al-Aqsa is the third-holiest in Islam and a focus of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

It is also the location of Judaism's most holy spot - Jews refer to it as the Temple Mount - and a frequent scene of conflict between the two sides.

Muslim worshippers' access to al-Aqsa and the adjoining Dome of the Rock is controlled by Israeli security forces.

The religious site is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

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